This one symbolic act distills everything that I have come to love about cyclocross racing. I'm actually not being sarcastic here. When I thought about it some more, this whole attitude of laying it on the line during a race, but never taking yourself too seriously really resonates with me. I have seen one cyclist punch another after the finish of a road bike race where he perceived the other guy to have made a bad move that caused him to crash. I've seen top age group triathletes content to sit in big draft packs for most of an Ironman race. I've known runners that went to psychologists because their heads got so messed up on race day. Cyclocross has become my antidote to all this silliness. Sport should be challenging and there is great value in exploring our physical limits, but it should also be fun.
Driving back home from Jingle Cross Rock I declared that it was my favorite race, of any type, anywhere. Even among excentric cross races Jingle Cross stands out. You really have to go to experience it, but I'm going to try and capture some of the awesomeness that is Jingle Cross here.
Triathletes have been known to traverse the country seeking the next PR course. Flat, straight courses are valued for their potential to shave off a few seconds or minutes. At the opposite extreme, no two cyclocross courses are alike and none are straight! A race may be held in a flat, grassy, park, but the construction of the corners and barriers always adds a degree of difficulty. Jingle Cross Rock is held on some county fairgrounds near Iowa City, which may conjure up images of flat cornfields. Actually, there is only one hill at Jingle Cross, but Mt. Krumpit is a beast and the course designers use it for all it worth.
|Mt. Krumpit from below. This is a descent.
Another unique element of Jingle Cross is that they route the bike course through some of the barns on the course. One of these, dubbed the Grinch's Lair, goes through some loose, deep sand in one of the barns.
|Me bombing through the sand in the Grinch's Lair (it's deeper than it looks!)
To keep things festive, there is Christmas music and lights. Another part of the course forces riders to weave in and out of animal stalls in another one of the barns. Pure. Genius.
New to the race this year was a "flyover". These structures are becoming more common in cross races. They consist of a set of stairs on one side and then a steep ramp down the other side. Here's a pic of the ramp side of the flyover at Jingle Cross. Later the course loops back under the same structure.
A last unique feature of the course is the Whoville whirl. This is laid on a flat grassy section and is basically a spiral that you ride into and then it spirals outwards (it only makes sense when you see it in action). Being held over Thanksgiving weekend, you generally get snow some days (this year was a rare dry year) and ice for at least the morning races.
Sunday morning was cold and clear again, although it would warm up quite a bit before the day was over. I had survived two days without any significant damage to my person and was excited about day #3. The Sunday morning course had quite a bit of frost on all the corners making things a little sketchy. My poor starting position really caught up with me on Sunday. A big pile up in the first two minutes of racing meant I got stuck way behind as the leaders rode away. There was also a short, but really steep hill that I practiced riding during warm-up. Unfortunately, riders in front of me tried it and failed leading to a pile up that I got mixed up in. I actually had my foot stuck inside someone else's wheel for awhile which didn't help things. My first lap was discouraging and I was way down on the leaders. As the race started to thin out I picked off riders one by one. I think two laps in there was a relatively long, somewhat straight section where if your legs weren't toasted you could really move. I put everything I had into a big effort and moved up about five places. This turned out to be one of the decisive moves for me in the race as none of those riders passed me back. Again, I was having a hard time telling where I was place-wise because of the first lap debacle. I was able to ride some of the more technical sections that others were pushing so that moved me up some more. I came across the line in 3rd again, with 2nd not far in front, but 4th not far behind!
The best feature of Sunday's racing was the bikini/speedo single speed category. Yes there is a speedo/bikini race in freezing temperatures on an Iowa fairgrounds in November. Silly of you to think otherwise. Half the singlespeed race is quite serious and competitive while the back half is, well, not. There was at least one guy and one girl who have my utmost respect and admiration that raced all-out in clothing that offered almost nothing in the way of protection against crashes. The bikini/speedo racers had multiple beer pitstops and two of them got on a tandem at some point in the course (I know, just when you thought it couldn't get any better, it does!). Fortunately for all of you who weren't there the race was well-documented in picture and video.